Urban art needs renewed vision in Indian cities

The aesthetics of Indian cities are generally looked after by the municipal corporations and development agencies. The aesthetic plan of the city keeps changing with the change of mayors, commissioners and district magistrate at the local level. There is a need to reimagine the ways how do we build our cities aesthetically appealing

Delhi, the national capital, is the only city or a state that has a functioning Urban Art Commission. The Commission was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1973 to “advise the Government of India in the matter of preserving, developing and maintaining the aesthetic quality of urban and environmental design within Delhi and to provide advice and guidance to any local body in respect of any project of building operations or engineering operations or any development proposal which affects or is like to affect the skyline or the aesthetic quality of the surroundings or any public amenity provided therein”. The other such commission in Bengaluru wound up in 2002. The commission in Delhi has lost its relevance over a period of time because of not being able to guide how the city should maintain its aesthetic value and conserve its heritage. Some erstwhile members have criticized the functioning of the Commission by underlining the problems in approval system of projects and also the advisory role of the Commission. They have stated in public forums that there is no visible impact of having an Urban Art Commission in the national capital, considering the haphazard development.
This becomes more important if we trace how this Commission came about in 1974. The major kicking off point was sprouting of high rise building in Central Delhi that was a low-rise garden city. The area around Connaught place witnessed the development of high-rise buildings.

Urban Heritage

We are aware that every city has its own culture and heritage. This should reflect in its planning and architecture. Right now, the cities are being built based on the ‘technical approval’ by development agencies and corporations. There is no conversation on how can we keep the heritage and culture of the city alive in its infrastructure.
Narayani Gupta, a former member of the Commission, has written in one of her articles that in the early 1970s when Patwant Singh, an architect, suggested an independent Commission, he was drawing on a very successful precedent, namely the setting up of the New York City Art Commission in 1898. She further wrote, “The New York Art Commission was created at the ideal moment – when New York, with Chicago, was building the first skyscrapers, when the nature of urban transport was being changed by the motor car, when the Muckrakers were writing scathing critiques of the urban slums that were the flip side of big business, when the US, under Theodore Roosevelt, was flexing its muscles. The Commission, with a modified name, still plays an important role in the development of New York.”
DUAC has weakened over the years and failed to deliver for the purpose it was created. There is a need to give teeth to the commission and make an example for other cities and states to replicate the model. DUAC was to conserve the low-rise character of the city and also conserve its forest cover but the way governments have gone about projects in Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Subhash Nagar and East Kidwai Nagar. Their role seems irrelevant in ensuring the aesthetic quotient of the city.
We can re-think of having functioning, robust art commissions in every state. and their system needs innovative and strategic tweaking to make sure that their presence is felt not only by the architects and planners but also by the general public.

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